Friday, May 26, 2006


Charles 04_07_05 020, originally uploaded by Oldmaison.

NB Telegraph-Journal | Editorials
As published on page A4 on May 26, 2006

Leaders must break impasse

Unless the dynamic in the legislature changes soon, this session will be remembered as one of the most narrowly political and procedural in New Brunswick history.

Both parties have been at fault. The question taxpayers are asking now is whether the Conservative government and Liberal opposition have the presence of mind to move forward.

The legislative session began well enough, with both parties promising to put issues ahead of petty politics. And at first, it seemed to be working.

The government brought forward a populist budget that included plans to cut nursing home costs, increase the number of teachers and reduce the size of classrooms, provide investment incentives to forestry companies, regulate gas prices, rebate provincial sales tax on home heating costs and cap increases to electricity rates.

While opposition MPs criticized the budget as too little, too late, they also introduced some well-considered legislation of their own, including proposals to protect coastal properties against rising tax assessments and to prevent elected officials from collecting separate salaries from a political party.

With these items on the agenda and the balance of power in the hands of two Independent politicians, New Brunswickers should have been treated to a full and productive debate - the kind that actually produces change.

The government, stung by losses in two byelections and the defection of one of its members, had an opportunity to prove it is capable of governing with vision for the benefit of the whole province. The opposition Liberals, eager to prove themselves worthy of forming government, had an opportunity to counter the premier's policy agenda with alternative proposals. So what happened?

Early in the session - even before Speaker Michael "Tanker" Malley traded in his Independent status for a seat in the government caucus - the potential for a deadlock loomed. The government was looking for a way to regain its majority in the house; the opposition was spoiling for an upset that would produce an early election. Both parties became so focused on their political goals they lost sight of the public interest.

Conservatives and Liberals have squandered their energy on attempts to bypass the legislative process, either by blocking it or by going around it.

Two weeks of negotiation between house leaders have not produced a compromise. The atmosphere in the house has quieted down, but only because MPs are acutely aware of the public's displeasure, and unwilling to risk further offense.

It seems Premier Bernard Lord and Opposition Leader Shawn Graham will have to break the impasse themselves.

The two leaders have already met privately, with little consequence. Next week, they will have another opportunity, as Mr. Graham accompanies the premier to first ministers' meetings in Manitoba. By putting their political differences aside, the two hope to convince western premiers New Brunswickers are serious about equalization reform.

We hope Mr. Lord and Mr. Graham accomplish their goal - and find the middle ground that will put the legislature back on track. The issues that matter are still on the agenda; it's time to give them the attention they deserve.

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